Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Carolco Files Part V: 1992-1995 and Conclusion

In spite of some huge hits and a few other fairly good movies, the end was near for Carolco. They had spent too much and made too little overall and it was all about to come crashing down.

The surprise hit of 1992 is a very good thriller with a heavy film noir influence and a pair of standout performances from Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone. Douglas is a cop investigating a murder and Stone is the probable suspect, a sexy author who happens to have written a novel that matches the murder perfectly. It's a sexually charged noir mystery from the beginning to the end as Douglas does his usual solid work and Stone turns in one of the best femme fatales in film history. The film was controversial due to its violence, sex scenes and various other issues but really it's a fast paced blast of a thriller. Paul Verhoeven directed this with his usual energy and managed to make the Joe Eszterhas script work (not something that always happens) by casting actors who can take the rather plain dialogue he tends to write and make it sound like something an actual human would say. For once, his lurid ideas work thanks to a solid director and cast.

Somehow, some way, a third (and later fourth) Iron Eagle movie was crapped out. I rented this one time as a kid and have no memory of it. All I can say is that it's a damn shame that this was one of John Glen's last directorial efforts. He did all of the Bond films in the 80's, most of which were awesome. The partnership with Carolco and New Line/Seven Arts wasn't going well at this point, I think.

One bright moment was this fun flick with Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as undead soldiers in a top secret special forces program who begin to remember how much they hated each other when they were alive and go nuts. An early film for the Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich combo (later they would give us Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla 1998), this is a fast and violent shoot 'em up that is utterly stupid, but you get a fantastic villain in Lundgren and some nice action beats.

Robert Downey Jr. gives a good performance as Charlie Chaplin in this solid biopic directed by Richard Attenborough. Good cast all around as well but Downey is the reason to seek this one out.

1992 was really the last sort of high point for Carolco in 1992 as the rest is... Well, let's just say that now would be a good time to put on "The End" by The Doors while you read the rest of this post. Or "Freebird" if you are so inclined.

Projects were shelved (a failed Spider-Man film directed by James Cameron in '92; an Arnold Schwarzenegger/Paul Verhoeven flick called Crusade in '94) and probably the only reason the company limped on until 1995 was a late 1993 merger with The Vista Organization.

The last film they did with Tri-Star, the distribution deal ended up leaving the company with very little in the way of a profit in spite of the film's success. I've written about the movie elsewhere, (briefly, it's very good) but the way this movie came together played a big part in the studio's demise as they were drowning in debt by this point.

This one is a real bummer as not only is it the last thing John Candy worked on (he died in the middle of filming and body doubles were used for the remaining shots) it's also cripplingly unfunny.

The company's last movie of 1994 is this successful, interesting but finally sort of dull sci-fi action movie from the same team that earlier gave the dumb but fun Universal Soldier. Kurt Russell and James Spader are a soldier and scientist respectively on a team investigating an interstellar travel portal that dumps them on an alien world that may have influenced the ancient Egyptians. Russell and Spader are find but really, the TV series that followed is better if only for that fact whatever episode you're watching takes only a third of the time the movie runs to watch.

1995 was the end for the company. They only had three releases but two out of the three are actually rather notable. The first was a Tom Berenger film called Last of the Dogmen that got decent reviews. The other two... Ugh!

The first and only NC-17 film to get a wide release in the US, Showgirls is one of the great bad movies. A sleazy, tawdry showbiz expose along the lines of the sludge that was en vogue in the sixties and seventies, this killed a few careers and was one of the final bullets for Carolco. Joe Eszterhas wrote the script and Paul Verhoeven directed which means "over the top excess" in the worst possible way. Bad dialogue, bad acting, just bad.

The final nail in the coffin was this mega budget pirate movie that was a last ditch attempt to salvage things. In 1995. Geena Davis is our action hero for the day (the film was directed by then-husband Renny Harlin who also directed her in The Long Kiss Goodnight) along with Matthew Modine as a con man and together they go up against a villainous pirate played by Frank Langella. The budget on this quickly got out of control (which tends to happen when there are multiple shooting delays and script rewrites) and the end result is a rather listless movie that is full of action but low on energy with a cast that, apart from Langella, isn't having a whole lot of fun. It's a real waste of money and I'm not too shocked it bombed. The pirate film had been dead for decades and honestly, the success of Pirates of the Caribbean eight years later is mostly Johnny Depp and his force of will.

The failure of Cutthroat Island was the straw that broke the camel's back (to say nothing of the careers and marriage of Renny Harlin and Geena Davis) and sealed Carolco's doom. They had a hell of a run though with some legit good movies, some fun hits and, as I think I've shown, more than their fair share of mistakes.

Carolco was a prime example of a studio consumed with 80's/90's excess done in by kung-fu treachery...

Uh, I mean greed and lousy financial judgment! Sometimes those two look very similar. If nothing else, they went out with a bang.

They might even be on the road back. A company formerly known as Brick Top Productions has bought the name and logo and hired Mario Kassar to help out with producing films, starting with a remake of the 1999 Japanese horror film Audition.

Hell, anything can happen.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.